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Drinks, Part III

July 6th, 2007 at 04:45 pm

Ok, so the Coffee Trials are over, and if you want to cut to the chase, scroll to the end of the post! Smile

I tried using coarsely ground coffee instead of fine ground coffee and I'm really not seeing an appreciable difference in taste.

In fact, it seems counter-intuitive to me that a coarse ground is going to extract more flavor (using the logic that a smaller particle is more easily saturated by the water, and will release more flavor as a result.) Also, it's a little harder to really ballpark the volume of coffee to water: a large ground takes up more space than a find ground of the same weight. Basically, a pound of coffee, ground fine takes up less space than if it's coarsely ground and since we're eyeballing how much water to add, it's a little harder (for me) to get the strength I wanted.

This is just a guess, but I think I'm going to switch back to fine ground coffee, if for no other reason than sometimes I want to drink the coffee hot, and when I do, I use a fine ground.

And, I decided that diluting the toddy with 1/2 water was too weak. So here's the final answer for iced-brew coffee:


* 2:1 ratio of water to coffee (fine ground, dark roast if you're me!)

* Put it in a cup, sticck it in the fridge, go to bed or something.

* In the morning, filter the coffee (I poured the coffee sludge into an automatic drip and used the drip's filtering basket.)

* The remaining liquid (toddy) is superconcentrated. I like cream in my coffee, so I've been adding that, and then adding water to dilute it to taste. I'm finding that about 3 parts toddy to 1 part water is what I prefer. Don't come crying to me if it leaves you with a mohawk on your chest.

* Add sweetener. If you're using plain sugar, you might add it to the water you're using to dilute the coffee. I like using the sugar syrup (there's a link posted in another Drinks post to show you how.)

* Drink, and hope you don't get the shakes. Then drink some more, it's July!

Note: cold-brewed seems to take about 1/3 more coffee than hot brewed. So if you're really cutting costs, brew it hot and cool it overnight. It's still yummy, either way.

Drinks, Part II

June 25th, 2007 at 08:21 am

Ok, so I talked about cold-brewed coffee in an earlier post and decided to test my recipe.

To start, I took a quantity of grounds (not coarse, as I just didn't have that handy) and added double the volume of water. I put this into my coffee pot (using the idea that I'd use the coffee maker's filtering basket to drain out the grounds) and let the mix sit for about 2 days.

Here's the result.

First, it was damn near impossible to filter out all of those grounds. I realized (too late) that to use the coffee machine's filtering system, I needed to have the actual pot in the machine. My particular model has a little plunger on the filter basket and a little bump on the coffeepot lid. The bump depresses the plunger, which releases the liquid in the basket. So I should have used a different container to keep the coffeeground and water mix. That would have made things a lot easier.

The second thing, which is really the first thing is that coffee grounds steeped in water make a slurry. Actually, "mud" would be a more precise description. The mixture was so thick, there was hardly any liquid left. I think that the use of fine grounds was the culprit here -- all that particulate matter, acting like little sponges absorbed all my caffeinated goodness.

In any case, when I had finished filtering, I was left with an inky, stinky substance that tasted like pond scum.

Needless to say, I was pretty bummed at this point. But then I remembered that I was actually brewing a concentrated product (the "toddy"), and the final beverage would need to be diluted.

Luckily, I scored some flavored syrup from the Souk. I wanted to buy a bottle of it, and they let me take home a little bit to try. So, I added water to the toddy (in a 1:1) ratio, poured in my syrup (tasty almond) and added a nice splash of cream.

This left me with a carmel-colored, sweetly scented brew that made me think of blue summer skies, handsome men playing frisbee, and a potential savings of $3.00 for not having to visit Starbucks that day. In a word: yummy.

What I would do over? Use coarse grounds instead of fine, plus making a bigger batch altogether. I had just enough for two cups of coffee (diluted) but if I'd wanted to add ice (I just used cold water, plus the toddy was already cold) I'd have had to make it stronger.

I'm not sure if there's an overall savings with the cold brew vs. the hot brew. I think cold brew takes more grounds, but I'll need to do a few more batches to make sure.

I will admit, the flavor is smoother, less acidic. I like a strong dark roast, and I 'm ok with a little bite. But the diluted toddy is a lot easier on the tongue than the same coffee does when hot brewed. And the home-made kind tastes exactly like the store bought kind (I think my syrup helped though.)

I will definitely make this again!

Salad Math

June 21st, 2007 at 12:46 pm

Lately, I've been buying lunch at the Forum's cantina. This is partially because I am a lazy oversleeper who always forgets to pack something the night before, and also because the Cantina has an amazing salad bar.

Typically, I get the same thing: mixed greens, fruit, chicken, cheese and dressing. This may not be the most healthful combination, but I really enjoy it. It prices at about 0.38/oz, and my salads clock in at roughly 3.50.

So today, I figured that I'd just buy salad fixings and bring my own. And then, while enjoying my (slightly less) tasty salad, I decided to see how much $$ I'd saved.

Mixed Salad Greens: 4.99/lb
Berries = 8/lb
Chicken = 5/lb
Salad dressing = 3/lb
Cheese = 4/lb
Carrots = 1.50/lb

A careful reader will determine that I'm pretty lazy. The chicken is chicken breast (organic) and the carrots are prebagged, baby-cut.

Now, the chicken at the Forum isn't organic, but they do have the carrots I like (matchstick). And I feel silly even typing that.

Ok, so buying my salad daily costs .10 more per ounce than it does to make it at home. And an average salad weight of 1/2 pound, I save roughly 3.50/week by packing .

Clearly my cost would go down even further if I had used a different kind of fruit, say apples or grapes, rather than berries. But I had bought berries this week and that's how the math goes. Also, I know I could do better with buying a whole chicken, but I know I won't eat it, and getting on the bone breast still kind of grosses me out.

At first I was worried that the 0.10/oz savings was kind of piddly, but doing the math reinforces my decision to do this at home.

Oh, and it makes me want to grow salad greens!

Drinking Problems

June 21st, 2007 at 08:06 am

I love coffee. Love it, love it. Coffee makes the fog clear, the sky blue, the sun rise in the morning. Coffee transforms my brain from a sluggish clod of dirt into a sleek, high-speed performance machine. Or maybe it just helps me string a sentence together at 9 am.

So I have a dedicated mid-morning cuppa, just as insurance towards a happy life. But this heat...it's so intolerable that I'm nearly off my food. And the thought of drinking anything hot makes me sweat a little.

So, this weekend I started drinking iced coffee. I was so desperate for a fix, I actually bought this at a Corporate House O'Doom.

The obivous conclusions can be made here: the coffee was delicious, more $$ than what I want to pay on a daily basis, and so I've been doing a little homework to crack the code.

Here's what I found, pass it on!

Cold-brewing iced coffee:

* Start with a coarse-ground dark roast. You can get this in bulk at a grocery store.

* Put a quantity of coffee in a clean container, and add double the volume of water as you did coffee (so, say 2 cups of water for 1 cup of grounds.) Not boiling water, just plain water.

* Let this concoction steep for about 10 hours.

* Filter the coffee water mix. The resulting liquid (coffee concentrate) is called "toddy". You'll want to dilute it with some water, and because it's already so strong, it should keep a nice flavor even when you add icecubes.

From what I've read about cold brewing, it's got a smoother flavor and less acid than the regular hot brewing method.

And how to sugar it now that it's cold? Martha Stewart has a simple sugar syrup recipe and you can flavor that to taste to duplicate all the fancy schmancy syrups you find in the Corporate Houses O'Doom.

Of course, you can always make hot coffee, add sugar, put in fridge, go to bed and drink it later. But try the different way and see what you think!

Learning more

June 15th, 2007 at 07:07 am

Ok, so I've done a bit more homework, and have concluded that, in spite of major advances in computing, finding a hardiness map that shows my precise location is really difficult. I can see my state, but I'm at the border between two zones and when I search for average yearly temps, I get values that don't jive with what I remember from last year.

So here's the rundown on my climate here:

long winters, with frost as late as April and as early as October. Typically a heavy snowfall, with low temps (including windchill) around -5. In the summer, highs in the 90's. The area is very fertile and green, so I think I'm in zone 5b.

Also, my mom tells me to stop using the little peat pots -- she says that it's not a renewable resource, and I should consider it like oil: once gone, not replaced. So I'm getting some vegetable compost (not quite on board with the manure just yet)and topsoil and starting seed in little newspaper pots.

I actually have some biodegradable coffee bags (when you buy it by the pound) so I used a few to put my basil seedlings in there. I also used some carry-out containers for the smaller seedlings.

To justify the cost, I'm not allowed to eat out (after today, as I forgot a lunch) as a substitute for cooking at home. If I'm meeting friends, that's ok, but for a day to day basis, I'm not going to spend the $$. This eases my mind a little about the cost of the dirt.

It's been a lot of fun reading about the different gardens. Here's some of the sites I really like:

You Grow Girl I love this site.
Victory Seeds (I got some seeds from them, but haven't tried them yet)
Seed Savers (haven't bought, but like the site)


June 14th, 2007 at 10:05 am

Wow! Thanks for all the great advice! I knew I came to the right group for questions.

I started doing a little homework, both online (from the resources you all gave and yay wikipedia!) and old-school (yay library!)

So I'm feeling a little more confident, and here is my grand plan to convert a 3x3 patch of sunlight into some healthful food.

1. Raised beds. I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to retain the beds just yet, but I figure I can buy myself at least a week or two of time if I box the beds in...well, cardboard boxes. I've got a ton of these handy, courtesy of the Souk.

So the dirt and plants go in the boxes, and that gets them outside while I figure out how to build a frame around them.

2. The dirt. Evidently, a local park gives out free mulch in the spring! I did not know this. So I'm checking to see if I can find some of this stuff. If not, I'll buy it this year and pay attention to the news next year. I also tried to get a few neighbors together so we could have it delivered, but I don't know if that will fly. My mom says: 1 part each of dirt, humus or mulch, sand.

3. The "crops": lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, herbs, pepper, beans (of the drying type) and then for next spring (to overwinter) broccoli, garlic.

I figure, I can't kill all of this! And although not all is from seed (the tomatoes and herbs weren't) the plants averaged about $1.50 per each, and seed packets about the same. I've read that I can save the unused seed for another year, and I'll do that.

So now, I'm pricing out whatever materials will be used to hold the beds together (I'm guessing wood is cheapest, plus easy enough for me to lift and transport).

So I'm adding another category, and will continue to post on the topic. Thanks again for all the help!


June 13th, 2007 at 09:01 am

If the motto is "You are what you eat", then I am officially cheap, fast and easy.

But I'm not getting any younger (and my butt isn't getting any smaller), and I'm finding that I feel like lead. Sticky-fingered, powdered-sugar lead.

Also, a lot of my friends are vegetarians of the thrift/DIY movement/recycle movements. Although they never really talk about their food choices out polites towards my unapologetic carnivorousness, I'm starting to rethink my own food choices (something about being influenced by the company you keep.)

So I've been trying to shop more locally, and organically, and also in bulk to reduce packaging waste. But it occurs to me that maybe I could grow some stuff on my own? I live in a fertile area of the country: we don't have a long growing season (long winter), but we get a fair amount of rain and moderate summers.

But where to begin? I've started on lettuces in peat pellets and some herbs but that's it. I thought I was going to be moving (changed the mind) so I didn't start as early as maybe I should have?

In any case, I have a small sunny patch (maybe 3feet square) to work with. I know I need to buy some dirt (the dirt back there is pure clay), and I've priced that out in bulk as well. The dirt mix alone is about $30 for me. My mom says, make a raised bed.

Does anyone here garden, and is it worth the initial $$? I don't want to spend a lot of $$ and find that it was cheaper overall to just buy from the store. I was thinking I could do carrots, lettuce, beans, tomatoes (I have the plants for those already).


June 6th, 2007 at 03:51 pm

I am not going out to eat tonight. So I'm saving $10.00.

That's all!

June '07 and June '08

June 5th, 2007 at 12:23 pm

One of my long term goals is to be able to live off of no more than 60% of my income. Since I'm the sole breadwinner, I don't make a lot of $$, and I have a nice chunk of debt, it's a little challenging.

Currently, my debt expenses should run me about 45% of my take home income. One of these debts is a loan from the Guild and since it isn't due for about a year, so my total out of pocket debt is about 30%. My current living expenses are about 69%.

My short term goal is to eliminate enough of my current debt so when the Guild comes looking for their money, I won't go over the 30% debt load. This will make it far easier to pay off the debt and ideally, convert that 30% to savings.

I don't really want to have to work at the Souk to accomplish this: the time to payoff ratio is pretty low right now. But I'm going to need to stick very close to my budget to achieve my plans.

By my calculations, I should be able to put away for the following:

1. $500 emergency fund,
2 Freedom accounts:
a. car maintenance/service
b. Christmas
c. family trip (my mom lives far away).
d clothes (mainly shoes and a coat)

There's only a narrow margin for clothes (I'm loving the thrift store) and really no space for a few householdy things that I'd like to buy.

So what I've done is make another line item in the budget called Objects of desire. which will be bought with extra $$ I earn at the Souk. Because they're not necessary, but just desired, it's ok if it takes a bit of time to raise the $$.

This is what I'm saving for this month (calculated by hours mucking stalls):

1. Helmet & protective gear = 5 hours
2. Table = 36 hours

I like this plan because it places the entire operating budget on my day job, which is really more appropriate than having to depend on 2 jobs to get the bills paid.

I just need to be really careful and not waste money.

Thanks to the Webmasters!

June 1st, 2007 at 10:20 am

I really like the new features of the blogs. It's so cool to be able to adjust colors. So thanks, webgurus!

Your Money or Your Life?

June 1st, 2007 at 09:08 am

I almost quit the Souk last night. I've been on an abbreviated schedule with them for the past few months, so I feel culture-shock each time I walk in the door.

I guess I'm just not there long enough to keep that mental barrier between myself and the customers. Typically, it's not too much of an issue: I'm a "pleaser" in terms of my temperment -- I really want people to be happy with what they're buying. Plus, the customers at the Souk tend to be well-behaved, so it's generally easy to stay friendly and upbeat,

But there is a real barrier between their role and mine, and we are both aware of it in very different ways. My job is to sell as much product as I can. Part of that is by actually getting you what you want. So if a person comes in looking for a dromedary, she needs to leave with the dromedary. And if I'm doing the other part of my job, she'll also leave with a new bridle, some feed and a new riding habit to complete the ensemble.

That direct relationsip between the customer and the employee help create the initial sales. But the ability to generate future sales comes from the buyer's desire to return to the store. Customer loyalty is a key aspect of a business's success, and both the store and the customer know it.

Most customers intuitively know this, but they tend to just want an easy shopping experience. They want to know that llamas are in Aisle 3, but phosphorus-doped semiconductors are sold in Aisle 4, right next to jumper cables. They want clean shopping carts and 40% off coupons, and extra TP in the men's room. This, I can handle.

But some people see a socio-economic chasm between themselves and the employees. Understandably, wenching isn't exactly a great career choice: it's low pay, no part-time benefits and high turnover. But it's a steady paycheck and it's not going to haunt me if I ever run for president. And there are quite a few wenches that have paid for college working at the Souk, so I get a little annoyed when people treat me like I'm stealing televisons for crack money when I'm only mucking camel stalls.

Generally, they show this attitude in small ways, but these little discourtesies, those minute displays of bad manners are wearing me down. It's the petty things, typically from customers with control issues that feel they need something to prove. So when I say, "llamas are in Aisle 3, but you'll have to go to Aisle 4 for wombats," they look straight at me and say, "Don't tell me I have to go anywhere!"

But yesterday I had a customer really treat me like a wench. I got the blow-off, the curt tone, a little stonewalling and the thing I hate most in life: sending me off to get the item for him instead of coming with me to get the item himself. The Souk is laid out like a souk: all the merchandise out for people to see. I like to escort the customer to the stall, so he can see all of our wares, not just the item he came for. But it's not in the job description, so when he sent me off like some 17th century scullerymaid, I had to really stop myself from walking right out of the door.

And it made me realize: I just don't want to have to work this hard. I really don't. I don't want a lifestyle that requires me to earn a second income to keep it up. I know: every job has a required amount of kowtowing, but I want to feel like I'm doing it for a real purpose, not because I want a new bright shiny toy.

I have to reflect: how can my consumption better reflect my values and goals? I had a crap shift, and thought about quitting all night. But I'd gone out to eat several times last week, and bought a few presents for myself and I needed the cash. So I swallowed some choice words, and I stayed.

But it's a funny thing: I don't even remember what I ate last week. But don't think I'll soon forget that feeling of being embarrassed, and frustrated and really -- just trapped. Plus the negativity I had for the rest of the evening because of it.

The job at the Souk has been a real blessing. But I have to remind myself to be aware of why I'm doing it. What is the money really for, and what am I sacrificing to get it? Is it worth it? For last night, no. I could have eaten sandwiches instead of pizza and tacos and then I could have stayed home last night instead of working.

I don't want to keep making those mistakes. The next shift at the Souk should be for debt-busting, or business capital, or for more quills and scrolls for my next appointment with the Guild. Not for thoughtless activities that don't bring me any satisfaction.

Tentative Plans

May 31st, 2007 at 10:15 am

So I'm looking at my New Year's resolutions and realizing that the year's nearly half-over. I'm still 20 lbs heavier than what I planned to be by this time, I still haven't won the Oscar, climbed the mountaintop or had a marathon kissing session with Jake Gyllenhaal. I gotta work on that last part, really.

In any case, it's time for me to recrunch the numbers and look at my financial goals.

At my current rate of spending, including saving for an emergency fund and also a freedom account, I'm coming in slightly under budget, with a nominal amount that I can use for snowflaking. This is entirely from my job at the Forum (the day gig.)

Although I have the opportunity (for which I am eternally grateful) to spend some extra hours at the Souk, I'm really trying to transition away from that -- apprenticing at the Guild really takes up a lot of my time. And since I don't want to be an apprentice forever, I need to really focus my attention on doing a good job now.

So the long-term plan is to replace the time I spend wenching with something more in line with my guildwork. Wenching, though fun, isn't exactly something I can put on my resume. Ideally, I would intern at the Guild, but I can't afford to quit the day job.

Also, the second income from the Souk was really helpful in paying down some of my debt. So the other long term plan is to find some way to use my knowledge from the Guild to make a little extra $$. This summer is supposed to be used to get that started. I don't need to make a lot of $$, and I don't expect any side gig to be self-supporting, but if it can help pay the Brass Knuckle Crew from a date with my kneecaps, then I'm doing all right.

However, in the short term, I need to raise some capital, fast. I've been asked to put in some extra hours at the Souk, and I've been reluctant to agree to this: once the time's committed, it can't easily be revoked. But I'll be moving, and I need money for that. So I'm looking at the perfect mathmatical balance between hours worked, money earned and progression on goals.

This is what I came up with:

Working for one more summer and a Christmas at the Souk will give me the money I'd need to do one of the following:

1. Pay off two bills early (by about 5 months)
2. Complete the Emergency Fund

The cons are that it'll be at the expense of using this summer to break ground for next summer's goal (freelance guild work).

I'm not quite sure how I feel about either situation, so June is earmarked for decisions and revisions, and a few late nights with the calculator and the mirror: what should I do, and what am I likely to actually do?

But so far, there's been a stepwise progression ahead, which is great.

A not so drastic move

May 30th, 2007 at 01:06 pm

I've decided to move to a new apartment. Currently, I live in a cave on the mountaintop (at least that's what it feels like sometimes!) It's a tiny studio space, barely enough room to open a door and shatter a window. But it's enough room for me and 10 lbs of stinky socks, and the tiny space translates into a tiny rent. Plus it's in a good location: equidistant between the Forum and the Souk (in the sense that all roads lead to Rome.)

So why the switch?

I'm spending a lot less time at the Souk these days, and much more time doing the work of the Guild. Most of my nights are spent in the libraries, and I'm finding that my commute is getting problematic.

Plus, I'm finding that living in a cave and dodging out at night doesn't lend itself to either money-saving or better eating practices. The biggest expenses I have at this point are transportation and carryout. It's really just silly how much money I spend in these categories.

So I found a little studio apartment within public transportation of the Guild, not too much difference from what I pay right now. The only problem is that I have to come up with the $$ for the moving expenses and a few household items that I aren't provided in the new place. It's quite a bit of capital for me to raise up front, but I have a little $$ put away (and of course, the Souk keeps her doors and arms wide open).

Still, I think that the math works: even with these purchases, I'll be paying what I'm currently paying plus I'll cut the commute time/cost down.

Also, I think that in this location, I'll be able to have healthier habits (more time at home = more meals at home.)

I'm a little nervous, but I hope that the move will pay off overall.

May is nearly over, and with that half the year

May 22nd, 2007 at 03:16 pm

This is just a quick post: I haven't been on the site in 10 million years it seems. And there have been a lot of changes since then. I've been able to repay off two old debts and part of a third, which tally to about 2000.00. I have another 500 of the the third debt left to go before that's finished, but it's uncertain yet if I'll be able to pay off the fourth debt this year. Mostly because I haven't been quite as good with the $$ as I could have been.

In any case, I have to update my goals for the remainder of 2007, and decide how my time will be spent between the Forum, the Souk and the Guild. So I'll be back to hash out the details (it seems a little easier to write than to think it in my mind.)

January 06 vs. Jan 07

January 2nd, 2007 at 02:27 pm

I was checking an old diary (actually purging the content, so I can recycle the website) and was reading the entries from this time last year. In January 06, I was doing pretty much what I am doing now, but working more. I also had a plan to put away about 2,000 more than what I actually did towards my debt -- a fault of discipline that I'm really trying to correct in 2007. But in any case, if my numbers are correct, I've knocked off about 12k from my debt. Not all of that comes from hard cash: some is from a settlement, that adjusted the total owed. Also, the math is a little flaky because of interest accrued at this point that wasn't in place earlier. In the next few weeks, I hope to settle one other debt, so I can build an emergency fund and start snowflaking the remaining debt.

But in any case, it's some progress, and I'm feeling grateful. My new year's wish is that in 08, I can look back at this year and forward to the next with some good feeling and optimism.

Tentative Plans for 2007

December 20th, 2006 at 06:01 pm

I've been spending the past few hours crunching the numbers and the final is sobering, but encouraging.

At my current rate of repayment, I'll need to pull in an additional 3.5k per year for the next three years to be debt free. This doesn't include the money budgeted from my regular job, which is the overage after all operating expenses, including money for both a small emergency fund and a modest freedom account.

To reach that 3.5k, I can continue to work weekends at the Souk, and actually drop some hours there. I daydream about quitting there, especially around this time of year when we are all running around on something less than Christmas cheer (a better term would be sheer determination and loads of caffiene.)

In any case, it's just not a reality for me right now. However, I'm looking forward to cutting my hours back a bit, because one of my goals in 2007 is to do more writing and illustration for pay. I don't have the contacts to make 3,500 by that type of work alone, but to build up a client base in 2007 might mean working less (or not at all) in retail by 2008. This would be ideal. Unfortunately, I'll need to do something spectacular to get the seed money to get this started: currently, I use a public computer, and I'll definitely need to get one of my own. Luckily, I have a trick or two up my sleeve that I hope will prove useful.

Regardless, there's a bit of padding built into the current budget (I shorted my pay by 50.00/month and added money for new tires for my car in the freedom account.) I'm not that great with keeping to a super-strict budget, so that extra will hopefully protect me from the (anticipated) overages.

The additional money I earn (for the beginning of 2007) is earmarked for the Guild, which I hope to enter in January. Life will be crazy, in a crazy kind of way. The rest of the money earned in 2007 will go to recompense Peter, who was held by the heels, shaken down, stripped naked and beaten cause Paul needed milk money. Peter's in a dire state, so I have to show him a lot of loving care.

I guess my overall goals for 2007 are to just follow the plans I've made for myself. I know what to do, but like most of us, I've got some trouble keeping to the path. So we'll see where I go from here.

Later that Same Year

December 19th, 2006 at 08:41 am

The past months have been...just surreal. To put it plainly for a change, I've been trying to clear an account that had been sent to collections. Since the summer, the collection agency has been stonewalling the application of a settlement offer - which meant, according to the creditor, the account hadn't cleared.

We'd called, emailed, practically sent a message in interpretative dance, but it seemed like luck was against me here. In fact it got so bad that at one point, after I'd called every day for about two weeks straight, a rep from the collection agency hung up on me. Then hung up on the original creditor when they called to see WTF was going on. I think it was some computer glitch, I don't know. But the upshot was that I was in line for some aid that would have covered out the remaining balance of the account -- but only under the terms of the settlement.

With the settlement not appearing on my records, I couldn't get the aid. Without the aid, I couldn't clear the account and that was going to be a hole in my tiny lifeboat.

So we go round and round and round some more: more calls, more emails, more tension headaches and nails bitten to the quick. Not to mention the stomach-churning feeling I got when they reported that (courtesy of the ghost in the machine) my account had been cancelled and reinstated which (due to the rules of the aid) would disqualify me from getting any assistance for 6 months. Cue stress-induced vomiting.

Or when I discovered that they'd overcharged me 3 times after I sent in a one-time-only electronic debit payment. That week's menu: peanut butter, lots of water.

But last week, I get a letter in the mail saying that I just needed to approve a wire transfer from the aid agency to the collection agency. I signed the forms and gave the courier some candy, and then sat, trembling for about 10 minutes.

By now, I felt like Charlie Brown, gazing down the field while Lucy balances the football and looks up with a beatific smile and the promise that this time, she won't yank it away, no really she won't.

So I waited until today to make a phone call.

And they said to me, in a briskly efficient voice, that they've made a wire payment, but maybe I should call the collection agency just to be sure?

And I call the collection agency and they say in a similar tone that while I had a balance with them last week, I don't have one today.

And my head feels kind of empty and quiet right now, which is crazy, because that little number -- that zero, that ending? That zero is a tiny little chance for me to make a huge change in my life. And I don't know if it's an anticlimax or the center of the storm, because I feel like I've accomplished everything but it's coming at a cost and a responsibility that I can't even articulate.

So I'm back from the palaces and the temples and returned to the mundane world. Not quite in the condition I left in, but with some added goals and priorities.

Of course I am still at the souk -- for now.

The Byzantine Empire

September 19th, 2006 at 12:08 pm

byzantine adj: of, relating to, or characterized by a devious and usually surreptitious manner of operation

The agents of the Medici are playing games with me. I've gone through 1,000 different offices and spoken to twice as many agents, but they still will not do what I need them to do: update my records.

This is a triviality of enormous consequence: my bills still show as unpaid. And until they are cleared from the records, I may not even make a request for an audience. I'm beyond frustrated and angry. Some of the people I've encountered have been helpful, but a few have been almost perversely determined to block me. Even the original creditor is unable to get them to move: Bob has contacted them directly, several times to indicate that yes -- this part is paid. But they refuse, and I don't know how to move them. I can't imagine what mountains will need to be moved to get this cleared off my credit report.

I've reinforced a committment against debt: I don't ever, in my life, want to have to put up with this kind of nonsense. It's one thing to be hassled when you can't pay, but quite another when you are actually trying to pay.

My goal for the next few months is to raise capital. At the worst case, the delaying tactics will prevent me from getting the help I need, in which case I'll have to come up with even more cash in the next few months. In any case, the settlement has reduced my debt by about 3.4k, which knocks 3.5 months off of my debt-reduction calendar.

However, for now, I'm still at the palace gates, wild-haired and raving, begging bowl at my feet.

keep your fingers crossed

August 30th, 2006 at 10:38 am

I go to plead my case to the Medici.

There is so much that depends on their decisions. If they consent to a patronage, so many doors may open. If they refuse, the doors stay shut. But the doors are already shut, so I lose nothing by my petition. Except the opportunity to pull out of this orbit -- to break out of the cycle I am in. No guarantees, just opportunities. I have sent along my letters of introductions, and wait for their counsel to speak to me.

I hope against hope: my mind soars while my stomach plummets.

What Happened Next

August 30th, 2006 at 08:01 am

So last night, before I went to bed, I made sure my checkbook (with the proper checks) was tucked away in my handbag. That was a good idea, because I slept poorly: I kept waking up with nightmares, and managed to turn off the alarm clock, which meant that I overslept and was late to the Forum. I'm running a little ragged today.

During a break, I went down to my creditors and tried to make a payment on my account. The lady in reception couldn't even see my balance, so she said that I need to see Bob, the late accounts guy in another office. I got scared and started to leave, but she pulled some lever by her desk and I fell straight through the trapdoor into Dungeon #256 and landed right next to Bob's secretary, who dragged me by the hair into his office.

Or maybe it just felt like that.

In any case, I found myself huddled in the entryway, afraid to leave and terrified to stay. But Bob told me to sit, and asked me what I wanted, and with all of the grace of a nerd's first date with the prom queen, I explained that I wanted to bring my accounts to a current status. This is actually a three-part task -- the first part being to pay off a portion, the second to have them accept the settlement offer, and the third to actually settle it. The third part is supposed to be fairly straightforward, but I just went cold all over after I typed the words "supposed to be".

Bob was nice, not too pushy, and said that ultimately the settlement would be handled by their offices, but if I would wait a minute, I could talk to someone there right then. So I did, and this is where I stand right now.

Firstly, they agreed with my settlement offer. So now I have to contact the collection agency and suss out a few details on their part -- some paperwork through them that will settle the account, which will hopefully be (cue lightning strike and spooky laughter) fairly straightforward.

Secondly, they told me the final balance that needs to be paid this week. I can do it, but they said it takes some time for the check to clear and cash or a cashier's check is a better option. I can see why they'd say it -- I haven't exactly been prompt in the past with getting them their money, which is how this whole problem got started. So I'll have to stop Jesting for a few hours to petition the Medici for the settlement, or it's 6 more months shoveling camel poop to raise the necessary cash.

Step by step. I can only go step by step.

What's it Worth to You?

August 29th, 2006 at 02:05 pm

I read an interesting post from Young and Broke about Psychological Income: basically, the emotional return you get from a given action. She applied the concept to purchases, and it's a valid consideration to make. I've been keeping track of my spending this month and there are too many areas in which I've nickle-and-dimed myself, not getting a good return on my investments.

There are some things I'd planned to get for the fall/winter season, and I'm finding little things that I wanted to purchase. But I need to be more careful with the "I wannas" -- those little nifty items that I can do without and that add little value to my life. These can really derail my budget, especially since I'll be working a little less at the Souk.

I need a more stringent assessment of the little, offhand purchases to be sure that they really mean something to me.

My Nerves are Shot

August 29th, 2006 at 10:33 am

I wanted to pay off the one big bill today, so I made sure to grab my checkbook as I raced off to the Forum. I was going to take some time off at lunch to take care of it. But I realized (too late) that although I brought my checkbook, I didn't put checks from the holding account in there. So basically, I'm shooting blanks.

In any case, I'm feeling stressed. I have a feeling that paying off this bill won't satisfy the debt enough to put plan A into action. It depends on what they think and what they let me do. I guess I always knew this deep down, because I haven't geared up plan A at all: nothing but the idea is in place.

I may try to go home early, get the checks and pay these guys but it'll probably have to wait until tomorrow. I feel queasy and sick just thinking about it all, so I want to pay out the cash before I totally lose my nerves.

Sometimes I wonder why I can't seem to get my act together. Frown

Boys and Bills

August 28th, 2006 at 12:29 pm

So I met again with the Game Gang last night. We switched off from Go and started Cribbage. Idris had me play Colin, his young nephew who learned the game from his Uncle. Lucky boy -- Idris is a good teacher and Colin totally kicked my behind.

I must be a glutton for punishment, because I eventually asked Idris if he'd like to play a hand or two. As he was repeating the example set by his nephew, we got to talking and I realized that Idris is not just a cute guy, but a nice one. An entertaining one with a sly wit and an easy smile. And now I'm sitting there, losing like it was a moral imperative, and grinning like a six year-old with a bag full of cupcakes.

As you know, I moonlight as a wench. What you may not realize is that the job requires a fair amount of social skills. We don't sell air or kidneys at the Souk: money spending happens out of desire, not necessity. So part of what we sell is customer service: the attitude and personality that makes shoppers want to buy, and to do it from us rather than next door at the Agora. A casually flirty attitude is part of the standard-issue uniform, and we learn fairly quickly how to chat up a customer and subtly lay down the charm.

So I can sell the latest bridles, or convince you to extend the warrantee on a GPS system for the last llama you bought, but I seem to falter when it comes to promoting my own agenda. I felt and probably acted like a middle-schooler, unsure if I should give the boy a smile or a kick in the shins to get his attention.

Unsure of what to do, I called in a ringer: Ash's brother Zack. And in a moment of true loyalty, he gave me some tips on the inner workings of the male mind. One of the suggestions he made was to revamp my wardrobe. Typically, my style runs to polyester leisure suits, but Zach tells me that guys don't dig that. He recommends girlyfying it up a bit: some belly shirts, maybe a little cleavage, some perfume.

I'll do anything once, so I snuck off to the Agora this morning and ran around wild for a bit, spraying myself with perfume and trying on new clothes. For a second, I felt like I was Paris Hilton, but I must really be Paris Motel 6 because the price tags brought the escapade to a screeching halt. I saw perfume that cost more than a month's worth of groceries, and some of the clothes looked like thrift-store deals at a 500% markup. My mom always told me to be myself, and at the prices I saw this morning, I'm thinking she gave excellent advice.

I can probably pick up a cute pair of pants at the Souk. The ones I have are worn, so it's a justifiable expense. As to the cleavage, I think I'll leave that to the imagination. I talk a big game, but I lack the follow-through, if you get my drift. But Zach insists the perfume is a must. I'm not sure how I feel about spending that kind of cash, though.

I wonder if Idris likes the smell of dryer sheets, toothpaste and soap? Smile

I Never Learn

August 25th, 2006 at 11:42 am

So after I made that last post, I just braced myself and made the call. The lady was really nice, which was reassuring, and gives me more confidence to contact them again in the future if I need to.

They are going to send a settlement offer to my creditor, and get back to me. The way it works is the agency sends in an offer for one amount and the creditor either accepts or sends a counter-offer. As per usual, I didn't even factor that into my plans, which means that I'm not likely to get an answer anytime soon.

Of course, I need my answer pretty soon. I never can learn a lesson the easy way.

This is only part one though -- I still need to pay of my one big debt pretty soon also. I transferred the money into my account, and I need to take some time off from the Forum to hand-deliver it. I don't know if that will put everything in place, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Scared to Make a Move

August 25th, 2006 at 11:24 am

I'm a total chicken. I don't know why that is, but I'm the kind of person that when faced with an unpleasant or intimidating task, will not just buckle down and do it.

As you can probably imagine, this causes loads of trouble, in nearly every aspect of my life. It doesn't help that I'm typically a very disorganized person, so when I actually get the courage to do something, it's hard to put my hand on all the relevant material needed to take action.

There are two big areas where this has caused me problems, and they are on the verge of intersecting. One is my finances: I have to contact one creditor to see if an account can be taken out of collections. I want to know if they will settle for the original amount. If they agree, there is some work that I need to do and people to contact to set another plan in motion.

But I'm really scared. I guess it can't get worse than what it is: if they say yes -- bonus. If they say no: nothing changes, and the plan might still be able to go forward anyway. The ridiculous thing is that the debt wouldn't be in collections if I had contacted them when my life took a tailspin. But I waited, like over a year before I contacted anyone. It was stupid, and it cost me, both in damaged credit, interest fees, sleepless nights and a near-ulcer.

So looking back on the mistakes I made before, I keep telling myself just to make the call, to take the chance, but I've always been the girl on the side of the water, afraid to dip a toe in because I might get yanked underneath.

A Surprising Victory

August 21st, 2006 at 11:13 am

At lunch today, I ran into Ron from the Game Gang. He was talking about different techniques of playing Go and about how long it would take my skill level to evolve out of the primordial slime.

I was dreading the answer, because some of the gang have been playing for years. I mean, years and years. My attention span for new hobbies is like, 6 months. Then I chuck it to stay home and play Barbies. So I was all ears when Ron told me that I could really improve my playing by keeping a few goals in mind while I learned. When he told me the basic gear I needed, I mentioned that I had recently bought a book.

I scored the book at a thrift store while I was looking for aprons to wear to the Souk. It was only a dollar, and it seemed like a lucky find, so I bought it. It's pretty old, but in good condtion, and I like the chatty writing style. I couldn't remember who wrote it, so Ron told me to bring it next week and he'd take a look to see if the info was any good.

I half-remembered the author, so after lunch I went on Amazon to see if I could find it and I got some surprising news: my book is really well respected book by a very good author. Other owners of the book say it's really informative and helpful. And, it's both difficult and expensive to get a copy of it, because it's been out of print for like 20 years.

So even though the Gang can mop the floor with me, I feel like a winner today!

Silly Mistake

August 21st, 2006 at 07:46 am

I hung out with some of the guys in the Souk on Saturday night so waking up for the early Sunday shift was a killer.

Usually, I try to pack a lunch the night before, but I dropped off to bed with barely enough time to find clean underwear, much less make a meal. I had gone grocery shopping on Saturday morning, and thrown the bag in the fridge without unpacking it (the joys of single life) so I grabbed the bag, shoved it into my backpack and went tearing off to work.

It was a crazy day. I mean, just flat-out nuts. One customer went ballistic after her llama set off the security gates (we forgot to take off the bridle tags) and another had a meltdown because we stopped giving discounts on tiger cubs (now it's dragon eggs). The wenches kept running out of change in their aprons, and the rain was interfering with our intercom systems. It was getting stupid, and I couldn't wait to get home to a plate of warm cookies and a good novel -- both waiting paitently for my return.

So I finally get home, and snuggle up cozily to my reading and treats, and have a relaxing evening until I fall asleep and wake up on Monday with barely enough time to find a clean pair of socks.

On my way out of the door, I see my backpack. It's open. And inside? A bag of groceries. I had forgotten to put them back in the fridge when I got home from the Souk, and a week's worth of cheese, lunchmeat, mayo and yogurt sat out all night long. Part of me wanted to make a sandwich out of sheer perversion, but I think it must be hard to be defiant when you've food-poisoned yourself.

So it's PB&J for lunch today!

Freedom and Responsibility

August 19th, 2006 at 11:31 am

So I met with the Game Gang again last night. It's fun, but I still feel pretty akward because they all know each other and I'm the new kid. And I feel like a total tag-along because they've all been playing forever and I just learned quite recently.

But I finally got a chance to play with Idris, the person who had originally invited me to play Go in the first place. He's a really good player and just an interesting person (not to mention kind of cute Smile ). So as I was getting my requisite butt-whupping on the gameboard, Idris and I got to talking.

Idris is a pretty active guy, and he told me that he volunteers on a regular basis and that he often stops by at the Souk to pick up lunch on his way out. He also mentioned that he often visits some of the restaurants and coffee shops nearby to meet with friends. Then he told me that he's gone back to college to make a career change and when he finishes, he's thinking of moving overseas to teach English if he can't find a job right away.

He has a lot of interests and time to pursue them and it got me to thinking about how money can greatly influence how you spend your time. Idris had mentioned that the Go group sometimes meets at the Agora in the afternoons and maybe I could go. But then he noted that I work "a lot" and so maybe wouldn't have the time. He's right. I don't. I've been so focussed on getting out of debt that work takes up a huge portion of my life, and it's hard to imagine it might ever change even though strictly speaking, I'm working less now than I was before.

I have to admit, for a minute I was resentful of Idris -- not of him, but of his freedom. I just wanted to ask him: do you not work? Don't you have bills? How do you afford to have the days off and still have money to eat out, or go visiting? How do you do this? It's none of my business, but I was wondering -- how could I explain to a stranger (one that I was trying to impress) why I work so much?

Some people at the Forum see me in the Souk, so they know I work there. But the majority of people who see me in the Souk don't realize that it's not my only job. The few times I told people that I work 60+ hour weeks, they wanted to know if I was funding a drug habit, or do I have a kid to support, or what am I doing?

So I quit telling people. But now I'm meeting more people and it's hard to decline invitations because I can't get off work. Or that going to a restaurant is supposed to be a once-a-month thing. The people I meet in the Souk are fairly well off. I need to not feel out-classed, but sometimes I do.

I'm still focused on getting rid of debt though. It's too important to let feelings of akwardness stand in the way of that goal.

Honesty Check: August

August 17th, 2006 at 10:38 am

This is a running tally of my daily spending. I think I fritter away $$, and delcaring it all will help me to be more conscious of my spending. It won't be on the main page, but I'll be adding to it daily.

August 30: 4.00 (parking whilst on errands)
August 29: 0.00
August 28: 0.00
August 27: 4.00 (groceries)
August 26: 45.00 (food, gas, supplies)
August 25: 2.25 (food)
August 24: 45.00 (took a trip out of town)
August 23: 0.00
August 22: 15.00 (groceries)
August 21: 2.25 (food)
August 20: 0.25 (food)
August 19: 15.00 (groceries)
August 18: 0.25 (food)
August 17: 5.48 (food)
August 16: 8.00 ($4 parking, $2 clothes, $2 junkfood)

Career Potential of a Jester and a Wench

August 17th, 2006 at 07:33 am

I was reading an interesting post by Dumb Little Man that talked about ways to improve one's performance to achieve job success.

Plainly speaking, Wenching doesn't earn enough to make a career out of it. Not unless you are earning commission at a high-priced stall. Or if you open up your own stall. But at the Souk, I'm not bringing home the megabucks. And they don't do internal hires, so I have little chance of advancing to a managerial position.

Working in the Forum presents its own occupational hazards and the biggest is that there's not a lot of job security. There have been and probably will be cutbacks and layoffs. Also, the job descriptions are pretty firmly entrenched and it's difficult to make the jump from one job track to another. Add job consolidation to that, and it becomes pretty easy to see a career stagnate.

For the most part, I like Jestering at the Forum, but I know and my bosses do too, that there is no real opportunity for advancement. Most days I let this information simmer in my brain, but I realize that I'm not capitalizing on ways in which I could advance myself.

These are some things that I can do at the Forum:

* Get to work before my boss
* Become proficient in webpage maintenance. I don't really work in ancient
* Create a better foundation in automating the little tasks
* Streamline data both in and out of the Forum
* Dress more professionally
* Take more initiative in planning meetings

In a later post, I'll talk about what I can do personally to advance my career options beyond the Forum and the Souk.

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